Browncast Ep 40: Wael Taji on the Topology of Privilege

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

(as of this posting there are two postings on the patron page that probably won’t see the light of day until next month; one on Game of Throne and another a discussion with an Indian American on his impending arranged marriage)

On this episode, I talk to Wael Taji, a graduate student in behavioral economics and neuroscience at Peking University, in China. Wael is from an ethnically European background but converted to Islam at one point, before becoming a Coptic Christian (listen to the podcast for details!).

We talk about privilege, race relations, or lack thereof, in modern China. Wael has been living in China for two years, and first visited in 2013. He offered his own views on the changes in China’s view of the world and its place geopolitically.

Wael also offers a pessimistic take on Western academia (his undergraduate background was as a student at Cambridge University). His comparative assessment of intellectual prospects in China and the West were published in Palladium Magazine.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Browncast Ep 39: Carl Zha, Pakistan, and China’s demographic crisis

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

This episode we talk to Carl Zha (a return guest) about the Pakistani bride controversy and China. A lot of the discussion involves general demographic concerns about Chinese society.

Also, I know that some listeners consider Carl to be a Chinese government operative or plant (at least on Twitter). In which case, we present here a representative here of the Chinese government!

Ultimately the key point for me is to get someone on who can watch the Chinese media, which is totally opaque to me.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

Addendum: This podcast, along with one other, has been on the patron page for several days. There are cases where the latency is very short due to the timeliness, but in other cases, it can be as long as a week or more.

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Browncast Ep 38: Indian Elections

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.
You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

Razib & I played host to MJ, Kushal (Carvaka Podcast) and Vidhi.

It was a very long podcast (1hr 40 minutes) and it was really entertaining. Kushal & MJ are BJP-lite while Vidhi (if she was forced to vote) is Congress. We skipped the technical discussion since we will serve that after the elections. Continue reading “Browncast Ep 38: Indian Elections”

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Browncast episode 37: Arabian Linguistics, pre-Islamic Arabia

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

Picture for al-jallad.1In this episode we talk to Dr Ahmed Al Jallad, Sofia Chair of Arabic Studies at Ohio State University. Dr Jallad is an expert on the languages and scripts of pre-Islamic Arabia. We talk about the origins of Arabic (most likely in the Northwest of the peninsula and not in the South as previously believed), the development of the Arabic script (most likely from Nabatean Arabic) and the inscriptions of the region (In the 6th Century CE the ones that do reference a religion mostly reference Christianity, not the pagan gods of pre-Islamic Arabia that dominate our vision of the “era of Jahiliya”..

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Browncast Ep 36: Karl Smith, Communist to neoliberal

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

On this episode, I talk to Karl Smith. A former economist, Smith is now a columnist at Bloomberg. Smith’s style is that of a nonpartisan neoliberal driven by empirical considerations, but he actually has a very interesting background as someone who came out of an orthodox Marxist family. He was raised, quite literally, as a Bolshevik.

We also talk about his experiences being a relatively heterodox black American public intellectual, and how both of us see how racism has played out in our lives and in the country at large.

Finally, we discuss what we see in store for the United States in the future on the global stage.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Browncast Ep 35: Tahir Andrabi on Primary Education in Pakistan

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

Tahir Andrabi

This week we have a twofer about education in Pakistan. In part one we talked to Dr Sohail Naqvi about higher education, and in this episode Omar and Zachary talk to Professor Tahir Andrabi. Tahir is the Stedman-Sumner Professor of Economics at Pomona College and is currently working as the founding dean of the school of education at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He has a professional interest in primary education and public policy and has written extensively on these topics. He shares his views about primary education in Pakistan. I was especially taken by his observation that the 10th grade examination (the “Matriculation” examination) in Pakistan is one of the reasons why primary education in Pakistan is so sub-par. And that the entire colonial era educational system is meant to identify “winners” (the top 1 % of the students) instead of meeting the needs of the majority of students (the modal student in Pakistan is headed for failure). His points about educated girls having sparked a revolution in (private) primary education in the rural areas, and lax enforcement being the reason (onerous and useless) state regulation of education has done relatively little damage in Pakistan, are also spot on. I hope we get Dr Andrabi on again to discuss some of these topics in greater detail.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Browncast Ep 34: Sohail Naqvi on Higher Education in Pakistan

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…).

Related imageThis week we have a twofer about education in Pakistan. In this episode Omar and Zachary talk to Dr Syed Sohail Hussain Naqvi. Dr Naqvi is currently the Rector of the University of Central Asia. Prior to that he has been vice chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, executive director of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission and Dean of electrical engineering the Ghulam Ishaq Khan institute of technology. He shares his views about higher education in Pakistan and his own experiences in that field. In the next episode, we speak to Dr Andrabi about primary education.

In the next episode, we talk with Professor Tahir Andrabi about primary education.

We would definitely appreciate more positive reviews. Many of you listen to us, but don’t leave any reviews!

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Contemplating the weave of the world

    [ exploring various versions of how the world of concepts can itself be conceptualized ]

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Have patience with me: Omar Ali has invited me to post here, an honor I greatly appreciate, and I am introducing myself.

I’m an outsider. I’m your guest, and I only just arrived.. To be precise, I’m a Brit, resident in the United States:

If I’m to write on BrownPundits, I need to you know how ignorant I am in many respects, before I shed some of what knowledge I do possess — and also to focus myself in the Brown direction, because this place is devoted to “a discussion of things brown” — and while I’ll no doubt wander far afield as I post, I want to acknowledge and honor the purpose of this blog as I introduce myself here.

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My interest, my fascination, my obsession even, is with the weave of the world. And indeed, if my friends Omar Ali, Ali Minai, and Hasan Asif can be any indication, the Punditry of Brown extends intellectually across all of history, geography and genius, to encompass the world of ideas and the world world to which the ideas refer in their combined entirety..

And thus the weave of the thing. That’s how the Kathasaritsagara, or Ocean of the Streams of Story, comes in to my story. Somadeva Bhatta’s concept of the oceanic streams of story caught Salman Rushdie’s eye, and Rushdie reference to it —

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.

— it’s a universal mapping of the sort that enchants the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco, librarians both, encompassing the realm of human thought in narrative terms. And it’s one subcontinewntal form of the universal map, or model, or metaphor — the Net of Indra in the Avataṃsaka Sutra would be another.

Outside the subcontinent — but well within the compass of Brown Punditry– there are other such metaphors for the whole of the whole. Teilhard de Chardin’s oosphere is another, as is Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s >World Wide Web, in which complex weave of thoughts we now find ourselves.

But for my own purposes, the most interesting figure of the whole, the universe as we are able to think and name it, conceptually speaking, is the Glass Bead Game as described by Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel of that name

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My own personal predilections run from cultural anthropology through comparative religion to depth psychology, and from violence to peace-making. But that’s a huge sprawl at best, and to bring all that into some kind of focus, to learn how to map that immense territory, and the vaster universe beyond it, I turn not just to strong>Hesse’s novel, but particularly to the Game which he describes in that book:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

You’ll see how that description covers much the same ground as Rushdie’s description of the Kathasaritsagara, and Edward Tufte’s image of the Ocean of Story which I’ve placed at the top of this post could also be a depiction of Hesse’s great Game.

There are many voices in the Ocean, and many voices in the Game, and they are interwoven: they form which a musician would recognize as a polyphony — their concepts and narratives at times clashing as in musical counterpoint, at times resolving, at least temporarily, in a refreshing harmony.

And what better model of the world can we contemplate at this moment, that one in which a multitude of at times discordant voices wind their ways to concord?

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[ above: conventional score, bar-graph score and keyboard recordings of JS Bach, contrapunctus ix

Johann Sebastian Bach is the master of contrapuntal music, and, be it noted, a great composer for and improviser on the organ. And it is Bach whose music I listen to as I approach the business of modeling the world of ideas.

My mantram ca 1999/2000 was:<To hold the mind of Bach..

Where Bach devises and holds in mind melodies that collide and cohere, I want us to hold thoughts in mind — at times clashing thoughts — and learn to weave them into a coherent whole..

That’s my approach to making the Glass Bead Game which Hesse conceptualized, playable. And my playable variants on Hesse’s Game, the HipBone family of games, will be the topic of my next few posts — thanks to the kind inquiries of my BrownPundit friends, and Omar’s generous invitation to me to post here.

And perhaps, if you’re interested, we’ll play a few rounds of my games, or explore across the world of ideas and your and my interests, what I’ve come to think of as the HipBone style of thinking..

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Charles Cameron is a poet and game designer, managing editor of the Zenpundit blog, and now an invited guest at BrownPundits. You can hear a discussion of the overlap between the Glass Bead Game and Artificial Intelligence featuring Omar Ali, Ali Minai and myself on this BrownPundits podcast — with an appreciative bow to Razib Khan.

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What is a “Brown Pundits” podcast?

One of the interesting things about asking people whether they would come on this blog’s podcast is that they often say “I don’t know if I’d be that interesting to the audience….” More specifically, there isn’t always a South Asian “hook” to some of the episodes.

But the name of the podcast is “Brown Pundits” because this podcast was started by a few brown guys. Not because we discuss purely “brown” things.

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Collaboration and Loyalty in British India

This topic comes up a lot and there are many (contradictory) nationalist myths about who did and did not collaborate with the British during their rule in India. Major Amin has a short podcast about this topic that is worth listening to:

India was conquered by the East India Company using (mostly) the Bengal army, recruited primarily from what is now eastern UP and Bihar. Most of these soldiers were Hindus and a large section were Brahmins, but all religions, ethnicities and castes joined the EIC army at various points and all have examples of mutinies (many small, one large), frequently triggered by grievances over pay and conditions, but sometimes acquiring or having a nationalist color as well. Have a listen.

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